Yahoo Boys are a twisted form of Robin Hood in Nigeria. They are hated and loved by many Nigerians.
In universities, this new crop of young guys (and babes) quickly displaced club boys at the apex of the social ladder. Their flashy cars lit up the parking spaces of several female hostels. Guys wanted to be their friends. Babes wanted to date them.
14 years after the Internet opened up the world to Nigerian youths, Yahoo Boys (or G-Boys as they are also called these days) are still much visible. Gone are the heady days of the yahoo-yahoo golden era when young men involved in Internet fraud will spend millions of Naira in the clubs, buy G-wagons, Range Rovers and own houses in the most expensive states with reckless abandon.
G-Boys still make a lot of money (and spend a lot of money) but not with so much brazen attitude. America has drug dealers. South Americans have the narco trafficantes. Italians have the mob and the Japanese have the yakuza.
In Nigeria, we have the Yahoo Boys, the G-Boys, the 'wire wire' crew', thousands of young men and women pulling off various scams on the Internet. On the surface, you call them robbers, thieves who deceive people from their hard-earned money but just like the drug barons in South America, Yahoo Boys are more complex than that.
During the regime of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida from 1985-1993, the 'evil genius' oversaw the almost complete wipe out of Nigeria's middle class. As more and more Nigerians fell to the bottom of the economic pit, many resulted to 'advance fee fraud', notoriously known as 419.
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For years many Nigerians used hare-brained schemes, and 'too good to be true deals' to rob many naive Westerners of their money. The rise of 419 is one of the many reasons why Nigeria is a pariah among nations.
As access to the Internet became cheaper by the turn of the millennium, 419 would take on a new and younger face. The scams moved from physical meetings to online chat rooms and deals.
The 419 generation gave birth to the Yahoo generation, millions of young people who were born in a country just coming out from years of military rule. Hope for the young man was slim in a country with dead health infrastructure and a decayed educational system.
Disillusioned teenagers and young adults took to cyber cafés and turned to a life of crime. With foreign currency deep in their pockets, they became heroes in slums, the Robin Hoods of Nigeria's neglected 99%.
Many parents of Yahoo Boys turned a blind eye to their sons' criminal activities because they were putting food on the table and paying the bills. And as some believed, the Nigerian politicians who have ruined this country are bigger criminals than young men trying to survive against all odds.
In mainstream Nigeria which is deeply conservative, it's a white and black issue when it comes to Yahoo Boys. They are thieves, plain and simple. And mainstream Nigeria hates thieves as long as they are not corrupt politicians.
It is because of this aversion that has made it hard for G-Boys to be celebrated in Nigeria's pop culture. Although there are several references to them if you are attentive of certain lyrics from certain rappers.
Behind a lot of mushroom-record labels are Yahoo Boys financing the hopes and dreams of artistes who instead of turning into a life of crime decided to go into music. This scenario is similar to how a lot of Hip-Hop artistes and labels started up in America with drug dealers investing early on before established music labels took notice.
There has been recent talk about Yahoo Boys on Twitter with many dismissing as robbers and others defending them. Crime is crime, and Internet fraud is no exception but before dismissing them as just robbers, we should examine the conditions that brought about their existence.